Examination of Witness (Questions 60 -
WEDNESDAY 4 APRIL 2001
60. Sadly the Cabinet Secretary is not with
you so we cannot ask him how content he was with this process.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) He was content that it
was appropriate for the Government to publish it.
61. A number of politicians who spoke in the
question and answer session when it was brought before the House
in July pointed out that the power the Government has in this
as a propaganda tool is in what it leaves out as much as what
it puts in. Again I quote from Mr Hague who studied this document
very carefully. There were a number of key manifesto pledgesno
tax increases at all, which the Government quibbles about but
it was what they said before the electionwhich were not
referred to in the document at all.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is referred to in the
list of manifesto pledges on the website. This is the Government's
account of itself. It is perfectly open to members of Opposition
Parties, to members of the press, to say "this is what we
think the conclusions are which we would draw from what the report
says that we have done or from other material", but it is
important that the Governmentany Governmentdoes
set out how it sees the previous 12 months. It is inconceivable
that once a Government has set out what it perceived it had achieved
over the last 12 months that the Opposition would not say "we
disagree with this, we think this is wrong and we think the right
conclusions to draw are this, that and the next thing". Simply
to keep quoting what the Leader of the Opposition said about the
report does not seem to me to be much of an indication about whether
it is a good or a bad thing to publish the report.
62. I have been open and transparent about these
things. These points were made by Mr Hague and they are good points,
clear points. If the Government had not got into such trouble
politically in a day-to-day, week-to-week way with its ethical
foreign policy surely this would be one of the standards by which
you would wish to be judged?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I cannot remember what
it said about foreign policy in the document.
63. Ethics is not heavily laid on there.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) You are making party political
points about the substance of our politics, which is perfectly
legitimate, but what I am saying is that it is right that a Government
sets out its stall in a document like this, it should not be party
political in order to satisfy the Civil Service Rules but it is
right that it should feel obliged every year to bring it together.
Yes, you can criticise what you think is wrong with our policies
but what would be even more wrong would be if we did not feel
obliged to produce the report and then defend ourselves against
such ill-judged criticisms as you may wish to make about it.
64. I am afraid this is a tendency in all modern
governments whatever political party is in power, and the Conservative
Party when it was in power had a tendency to produce documents
not quite of this pomposity but of a similar kind. I cannot imagine
that it is fulfilling any useful purpose. How many people bought
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Ten thousand, I think.
Mr Trend: What survey work have you done of
its impact? One hundred people wrote to you about it and I am
sorry I did not now. That is a pathetic take-up for what is supposed
to be a
65. I do not think Mr Trend likes this.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I do not think Mr
Trend likes it. But if you said to Mr Trend that these White Papers
that are published and sold rarely break into three figures in
terms of the sales that are made, that does not make it wrong
to do the publication of such things. Surely the important thing
is that it is incredibly important that a Government does try
to engage as wide a waterfront of the public as possible in what
it is doing? If what it does leads people to say "you are
doing it wrong, you have not described it right", that may
or may not be right but the critical thing is the obligation,
that has not been undertaken by any previous Government, to come
forward with an Annual Report of what it does each year. In principle
that must be a good thing. Of course there are things that can
be said about how we could make it better, that we should have
more statistics, although I query whether that would make it more
interesting although it may make it a more meaty document, but
the principle is right.
66. The main thrust of the press reports, and
I suspect of Members who have looked at this report, is that the
document is getting worse and not better.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We need to try and make
it better. The principle of the document, I would assert, is a
67. Before I pass it along, could I put Michael
Trend's questions in a more temperate way? One could put the question
like this: those of us who not only think the Government is doing
a good job but know that the Government is doing a good job and
who very much approve of the idea of a reporting exercise and
want it to succeed are troubled by the fact that it will only
do that job if it has credibility.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree with that.
68. If it is thought to be party or presentational,
that it does not have credibility, then it will not succeed in
the objective, and that was the real criticism from the Government's
friends of it. Is that not the compelling argument, that it is
in Government's own interest to get some sort of external validation
of some of this so that at least then you would be immune from
these kind of criticisms that Michael Trend has been advancing
because you would be able to wave credibility in his face?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I could not agree more
with the proposition that the report has to be credible in order
to be a worthwhile accountable exercise. As I said in relation
to independent validation, it is very difficult to think how you
would actually do it in a way that was convincing, because ultimately
what you are doing is giving some statistics describing what you
are doing and saying to Parliament and the world at large, "This
is a Report, do you agree or disagree with our assessment?"
69. I gather that the National Audit Office,
as far as I understand it, are quite happy to engage in an exercise
to say whether these figures are right or not.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They would refuse, I am
sure, to validate the contents of the report, not because they
agree or disagree with it, but because they would not regard that
as their role.
70. Would it be useful to have discussions with
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would certainly have
discussions with the National Audit Office as to what they would
be prepared to validate and what they would not be prepared to
validate. All tentative discussions that one has with the NAO
or the ONS leads to the conclusion they are reluctant to be involved
in validating documents that have substantial prose in them, because
they are only focused on a very limited area.
71. This is something that you will explore.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I will.
72. We have before us one of the most affable
ministers and also one of the most able ministers in Government
engaged in what I think must be one of the most difficult jobs,
which is to justify this Report.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I disagree with the second
73. I was going to add "one of the most
modest" but I now feel I have to choke that back! I found
it very difficult even to make sense of the highly simplistic
presentation of the report. For example, if we go to page 23,
could you tell me what that means?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Beacon School in Birmingham.
74. I have a health chart here. The pages are
not numbered individually, they are numbered in pairs, which is
also a bit confusing, if I may say so. Pages are normally numbered
individually. Can you tell me what this illustration means?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is a photograph of
75. We can see what it is, what is its significance?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is an illustration
which makes the thing more easy to read and more attractive. There
has been a lot of criticism made by Mr Trend of the dull nature
of the document, this is to make it less dull.
Mr Trend: I think there are going to be no nurses
in the year 2000, and hospitals are going to be closed in 2002.
76. Presumably you went through this report
carefully and somebody somewhere in government read it from cover
to cover, I hope, and looked at the illustrations, all of them.
Here we have one, which even though the issue I am now raising
was raised on the day of publication in the House by Peter Brooke
still nobody in the Government has been able to tell us what the
illustration means. Is this really any way to go about producing
a publication that is meant to inform the public about the Government's
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is a totally unfair
question, if I may say so. The document is filled with photographs,
take the one on crime, there is a photograph of a pair of handcuffs.
77. I was taking the one on page 24, I am sure
you are capable of finding somewhere at least one illustration
that means something, I am talking about one that I am not sure
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There are photographs
and graphics in the document designed to make the document easier
to read and more interesting to look at. That seems to me to be
a perfectly legitimate thing to do to make the document more readable
to the public. As Mr Trend was saying, quite rightly, that is
one thing you would want to do to make it more palatable.
Chairman: It would be very helpful if you could
at some point, having taken advice, come back and tell us what
this packet of pills means.
Mr Tyrie: And if there is a hidden meaning?
78. The sentence before it says, "Improvements
are starting to come through", and one would expect that
sentence to be reflected in the packet of pills. For the life
of me I cannot work it out, and you clearly cannot either, but
it would be helpful if at some point you could.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I sought to defend it
in more general terms.
Chairman: If you were to try to explain it to
us at some point, after taking appropriate advice, it would be
79. Can I ask you few more general questions
about the Government's publications which, obviously, you are
not necessarily responsible for. Have you had a look at the Red
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That covers the budget,